Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

September 23, 2005

After the preliminaries, baptism takes the primo s…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 3:31 am

After the preliminaries,
baptism takes the primo spot in the Hughes Old’s book about reformed worship. He put it first because baptism is “our entrance into the church”.

The chapter tackles this topic by looking at scripture, by detailing the practice of baptism as it transpired throughout the history of the church, and by discussing a little of the theology of baptism as it has emerged in various ages of church history. Old sees John’s baptism as taking on additional significance by the fact that it took place in the wilderness and in the Jordan river. He claims that this points to a “new entry into the promised land . . . and a reconstituting of Israel and the establishment of the long-promised kingdom of God”. While baptism at that time was symbolic of washing away of sin (accompanied by repentance) John’s baptism pointed to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29). Old makes the somewhat startling claim that Jesus, through John’s baptism “entered into the kingdom of God”; as did the disciples as they followed Jesus into it.

Old highlights the baptism of Jesus by John – elevating its significance – by reminding us that it was at his baptism that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. There Jesus was proclaimed to be God’s beloved son. So to, is our own baptism a sign that we are sons of God.

Jesus’ baptism (the one you experienced) is commissioned to be pronounced in the trinitarian name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father, signifying our adoption by the Father; the Son, signifying that we are joined to Christ in his death, burial and resurrection; the Holy Spirit signifying a baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ baptism is also commissioned to be carried out to all nations. The Abrahamic covenant promise is thus being fulfilled in that all nations of the earth should be blessed. By receiving the covenant sign of baptism, we become participants in this New covenant, we become children of the kingdom, we become members of the church.

Old unravels some Pauline theology regarding baptism in order to bolster these previous claims. As such, he reiterates that Paul’s view of baptism is covenantal. As you know, a key half of the covenants are the promises associated with them. Here, the promises are the benefits of participating in Christ’s death and resurrection. As members of the covenant community the benefits are freedom over sin, victory over death and eternal life. Old says that the sign of baptism is not magic, but a means of grace. God uses the sign to strengthen our faith and to produce holiness in us.

Old briefly discusses the word ‘baptism’ itself. As much as I like Greek, I will skip over the technicals and leave you with the idea that the essence of the word baptism had become ‘wash’ rather than dunk, dip, sprinkle, pour etc.

Old then traces the practice of baptism in the church starting around 100 AD when it was a simple, plain event; 300 AD, when it involved liturgical drama which was delayed as long as possible in the believers life, some even wating till their deathbed; 400 AD when Augustine implored the church to baptise as early as possible. Baptism of infants was encouraged because Augustine felt doing so demonstrated that salvation is a gracious gift of God. Baptism is a divine work and without it no human work would avail for our salvation; 500 AD until the reformation when baptism became viewed as magic – midwives were baptising infants the instant they emerged from the womb along with exorcisms and anointings; 1500 AD when the reformers saw the need to straighten this out.

Here, Old presents the marriage of covenant theology with baptism as it took shape during the reformation. Old brings up the claim that the reformers stopped short of reforming the church as it related to the sacrament of baptism. Credo-baptists are fond of charging the reformers of leaving alone the Catholic church’s unbiblical practice of infant baptism. On the contrary, Old states that the reformers wrestled with this issue endlessly. The reformers saw the relationship between the covenant, the church, and the families that made it up. Prior to the reformation, the church had, as you know, seven sacraments. In that scheme, baptism washed away sin, but the sacrament of confirmation was when the Holy Spirit was conferred on the person. Reformers rejected a system where baptism with water was one thing and baptism of the Holy Spirit was something else. Their view saw baptism with water as the outward sign of baptism with the Holy Spirit, which was an inward grace.

It was during the reformation that the church (the reformed church) saw the need to catechize children. This is a natural outgrowth of the idea that children, as members of the covenant community, need to be instructed in the teachings of the Bible.

The Anabaptist movement caused a bit of a speed bump to the reformed church. They contended that baptism must be reserved for confessing believers only and who had had a conversion experience. They understood baptism as a symbolic confession of faith on the part of someone who was already a Christian and who had already been cleansed from sin. A reformer who may not be on everyone’s list of church hall of fame, John Oecolampadius, pointed to passages in the writings of Tertullian, Origen and Cyprian which indicated that the church had baptized infants from the earliest times of the church, that it was taken for granted and that it went back to apostolic times.

This whole discussion relates to these three: baptismal regeneration (Catholic and Lutheran), decisional regeneration (Anabaptist), or the reformed position which is that the Holy Spirit regenerates at his will and time.

I will conclude this overly long treatise with the following summary of baptism from the reformed perspective:
“Baptism is a prophetic sign at the beginning of the Christian life which continues to unfold throughout the whole of life. The sign of baptism claims for us the washing away of sins and calls us to newness of life. The sign of baptism calls us to repentance and to the profession of Christian faith. Baptism is not something that is done once and then is finished and over. It is something that shapes the whole of the Christian life. Baptism is a means of grace. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that brings about and fulfills what the sign of baptism has promised. That inward working of the Holy Spirit takes place through the whole of life until at last we die in Christ and are raised in Christ.”

My personal footnote here is that my baptism explains my earlier comment that I never chose to believe. In fact, I can try as hard as I want to chose not to believe but it is, and has proven to be, simply impossible for me to not believe.

I can also, provisionally, promise that none of the forthcoming chapter summaries will be as long as this one.



  1. One of the Anabaptist’s primary reasons for rejecting infant baptism was their desire to achieve a perfect church here on earth. The “descisional regeneration” view in their opinion helped to facilitate this goal.

    You forgot to mention that infant baptism is biblical.

    Also, the Lutheran view isn’t exactly baptismal regeneration it can be characterized as follows: “The Holy Spirit is so related to baptism that it necessarily works forgiveness of sins, regeneration, and salvation to believers” “Reformation Chart”, by R. Scott Clark, Modern Reformation Sept/Oct 2005.

    Nice piece though.

    Comment by mike s — September 24, 2005 @ 12:16 am

  2. Your comment about my not mentioning that infant baptism is biblical intrigues me.

    First off, I wasn’t commenting for myself but I was relaying Old’s chapter on baptism. So, on that score, remember I am just the messenger.

    Second, I guess I don’t know what you mean specifically when you use the adjective biblical. I kinda thought that by saying infant baptism is covenantal, Old is highlighting a greater witness. The covenant and its baptismal sign is surely the reality about which the Bible is merely a witness.

    Comment by Bruce S — September 24, 2005 @ 5:54 am

  3. By biblical I was inferring that it is in harmony with the teaching of the Bible. The Bible being our only authoritative source to judge opinions and teachings.

    The comment was loaded with a preconceived conotation that most people reject infant baptism on the grounds that it is unbiblical. Of which, I do not agree with.

    Comment by mike s — September 24, 2005 @ 2:19 pm

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